War memorials and the Logistics of Mass Extermination


Railway tracks shown in time-lapse: for minutes from the perspective of an engine-driver the camera races past platforms right across the world. There does not seem to be a plan, but there is a deadly destination: in the end, the spectator arrives at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This film, by the French artist, Jean-Gabriel Périot, shows in its unbearable inevitability, which derives from the silent power of the rail structures, the sobriety of a coo/logistic which is the essential precondition for the Shoah. For without the punctuality and pedantic organization of the German lmperial Railways the trains would not have arrived at their destination - neither the military transports bringing soldiers to the front, nor the deportations to the extermination camps behind that front.

Projected on a large screen directly in front of the Feldhernhalle on Munich's Odeonsplatz as a temporary intervention within the project Memory in Motion, Périot's film Dies lrae condenses this causality in a disturbing and evocative fashion unnervingly at precisely that location which, along with the Konigsplatz, was a central site of the blood and martyrdom cult of the 'Third Reich'. There, already on 9 November 1933, Hitler unveiled the monument for the 16 'martyrs' of the failed putsch attempt of the 9 November 1923. On this square the swearing-in of SS and army recruits regularly took place, who promised to give their blood and lives for 'Fuhrer, Volk and Fatherland'. To this day, the memorial culture embodied in (West) German and Austrian war memorials asserts that the soldiers of the German army fell between 1939 and 1945 for the 'Vo/k', the 'homeland' or the 'fatherland'.

In the middle of the Odeonsplatz, Jean-Gabriel Périot's film, with its grandiose imagery and swift editing, makes unmistakably clear that the great majority of German sites of memory and war memorials excludes to the present day those persecuted by the Nazi regime, honors the perpetrators and remains silent about the criminal character of the world's largest ever aggressively conducted war of extermination, without which the Shoah would not even have been conceivable.

If today a TV-presenter such as Sandra Maischberger, referring to two Bundeswehr soldiers killed in Afghanistan, can state on her talkshow, without any contextualization, that this was the 'first deadly attack on German soldiers since the Second World War', then it is high time that impressive interventions such as Memory in Motion are followed by many others.


Michael Backmund
Memory in Motion, 2007